responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for the ‘On Location’ Category

Off to a Fast Start

Jan 20

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 5:27am

The year, that is. The facts of the calendar. The pace. Not me, really. I haven’t accelerated at all. In fact, I might have lost a gear along the way. It’s barely mid-January, and I’m already in danger of being left behind. That’s nothing new. As I showed in my last blog, had a blast at the end of December shooting underwater production for a Kelby class. During that same visit to Tampa, I also shot a light shaping class. Definitely fun. The below was shot with an Acute 2400ws unit outside this abandoned warehouse, some strategically placed holes in the wall, a smoke machine, an overhead beauty dish, and two Speedlights flicked off the floor into a silver Lastolite panel. More on this class at a future time.


I’m surprised actually that the lovely Orshi, above, posed for me again. Last time we worked, I had her fictitiously killed off in a noir-ish scene in a seedy Tampa hotel that was definitely on the bad side of town.

Tom Aellis and his son Jared

The shot at the top the finished the clicking for 2014, but there I was on a plane on Jan. 4, heading for Vegas. You always figure the year is bound to be interesting when the first stop is Vegas. First night there, I was humbled and honored to receive the PMDA Photog of the Year award. Shocked the heck outta me, I tell ya. But it was a wonderful evening and certainly a positive opening salvo from 2015. There have been years I’ve started off staring at an empty calendar and a pantload of bills, and looking at my (very) used cameras and wondering if I turned them upside down whether any loose change might fall out of them.

Then….onto CES. The Consumer Electronics Show. The gods of technology were in full cry at the Vegas Convention Center, I’ve never seen that many people walking around in slack jawed stupor, literally being actively concussed by the visual power of curved megaplex sized TVs, ear popping, thrumming, shock wave audio capabilities, and of course a popular display mannequin amazingly infused with seemingly human woman qualities and who appeared to be more conversational and friendly than the person who checked me into my hotel.


It was all very impressive, in a numbing sort of way. For me, it was a simple lesson in how to feel like a troglodyte. But, I tried to turn the overwhelmingly gee whiz uselessness of the environment into an advantage. I was shooting, seminar style, in the Nikon booth everyday. And I said often to the weary throngs in the booth, you have just spent several hours wandering canyons of circuitry and gadgets you will never, ever use. Only to arrive here at the Nikon stage, where in a half an hour, I could actually teach them something they could use–how to use a speed light to make CES go away.

Let’s face it, ya can’t do much in three yards of stage, with no backdrop, and a couple of small flashes in hand. You are facing off against about a zillion different color temperatures, and a background so jumbled and distressingly colorful it looked like somebody ate a convention sized bowl of Trix and then barfed it everywhere. The only healthy thing you can do in this environment is to make it disappear, and for that mission, the speed light is your magic wand.

Thankfully, my foreground was occupied by the lovely Alexandra, all like, seven feet of her, in stilettos, doing her showgirl thing. Below is an available light snap from the stage. Nice, huh?


You just know you’re in trouble here. Especially onstage in front of like, 300 to 400 people. You got a half an hour, and less than half a prayer. Shutter speed becomes your friend, as does high speed sync. Not to mention maybe a calming, zen like interior chant, “Be one with the photon, be one with the photon.”

Actually it’s not that stressful. I try to have fun at these things, engage the audience and try like heck to make sure at least somebody goes away with a modicum of useful information. And if I screw up, well, it ain’t the first time, so it wouldn’t exactly be news.

But, via the relationships of shutter speeds, f-stops, and flash, in fairly short order, with some help from the audience of course, I was able to take the superfund cleanup site of a photo above and turn it into something respectable.


Nikon D810, three SB-910 units, two behind her, firing through red gels, and one up front, on a paint pole, with a little Lastolite Speedlight Box attached. 1/8000th @ f1.4, with 35mm prime lens. Alexandra, on cue, sprouts wings and a smile. I go click, and, at the combo listed above, the clutter behind her goes away. Except of course for the dude who chose to wear frikkin’ white pants in the lower right. Maybe he just came in off the links. Oh, well. The high speed maneuver crushed just about everything else, and for a brief split second of exposure, the absurdist world of CES, a riotous Pandora made of ones and zeroes and wires, went away, tamed by a four battery speed light. Technology I can use…..

More tk…..


A Postcard for FDNY

May 29

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 7:51am

Ten House is located on Liberty St., spitting distance from the World Trade Center site. They just got two new rigs, and it fell to 10 Truck chauffeur, Aaron Burns, who doubles as the house photog, to shoot a postcard of these brand spanking new machines. A postcard, and maybe a shot to put on the wall, if things worked out. Read the rest of this entry »

The Year Starts….

Jan 3

In In The Field, News, On Location at 7:25am

Thankfully, without too much travel, at least right away. Have a local job over the weekend, and next week, down in DC for the annual National Geographic Seminar. Photographers don’t have too much of an opportunity anymore to gather as a group, so it will be fun to see friends, long time shooters and colleagues. In between, on Tuesday, 1/7, I’ll be at Adorama in NYC. Starting off the year with an irreverent, impromptu, seat of the pants (is there any other way?) floor of the store small flash demo in the Adorama pro department. It’ll be a hoot. I’m giving away about a dozen books, pocket guides, a few t-shirts in response to important, impertinent, rash, insightful, goofy or otherwise interesting questions. Here’s the link.

Speaking of Adorama, while in Mexico, in December, I did a shot at a tailor’s shop for Ado TV. Here’s the link to that episode. As you might see in the video, it’s a simple pic, done with one Elinchrom Ranger from across the street, firing through a bed sheet hanging in a door way, and minimally tweaked with a bounced light inside the store.

I was in Guanajuato, working with my dear friend, Hector Segovia, with PhotoXperience Mexico, which is rapidly becoming the go to learning center for photography in all of Mexico. I kept passing this tailor shop, with the whir of ancient sewing machines and feel of long time family ownership, and I asked Hector if we could go in. And, it being Guanajuato, we were warmly received, and made arrangements to do a photo session in there.

The Adorama TV segments, by necessity, go very quickly. After finishing up, I decided to pull the camera angle a touch to the right, to pick up a weird/interesting store mannequin, off by the doorway to the back of the shop.

Now, I really liked the mannequin guy, with his studious glasses and ascot, but the big black hole of the doorway was bothersome. And, rightly or wrongly, I do believe in lighting through a shot, however minimally, to create interest and detail for the viewer’s eye all the way through the three zones of a photo–foreground, middle ground and background. So we stashed another Elinchrom back there, sporting a full CTO gel to simulate the bare incandescent bulb that was already existing in the room.

On a shot like this, radio triggers are required gear, pretty much. The two power packs don’t really see each other, and neither see the camera, so a radio is the way to go. We’ve been using both the PocketWizard Plus III units, and the PlusX units with a good deal of success for simple stuff like this. Not too much in the way of interference or range issues. We do use the Multi-max units, but they have much more capability than is needed for a shot like this, which, from the get go, is aimed at making it look like no lighting was applied at all.

Looking forward to going to the city on the 7th. My wife Annie runs the Adorama Pro Department, and of course Daniel and Efraim will be there, so it will be like family. Maybe we won’t do any flash demo, and we’ll just get together and sing some songs. Uh, no….I’ll stick with flash stuff.

All best for 2014! More tk….




F-Stop, Shutter Speed: A Powerful Combination

Jul 22

In On Location, Tips & Tricks at 7:01am

When you first take a camera in hand, this black box with a lens on it can seem to be a glaze inducing riot of numbers, symbology, and menu options. 2.8, 4, 5.6, plus or minus 2 EV……..if you’re not numerically inclined, there is, to say the least, potential for confusion. The shutter speed dial has more logic, right? Twice or half, depending on which way you turn it. Initial forays in making f-stops and shutter speeds work together like a seamless duo, to produce dependably predictable results, can induce one to look shiftily around the room, making sure nobody is watching, and quietly dialing the camera over to “P” mode. Just go and shoot. Let the camera do the math.

But that’s like not voting on election day, and then complaining about the result. The camera’s brain can average things out, at least most of the time, reasonably well. But what it can’t do is interpret the numbers and see potential for those numbers, working together, to produce a different look, or looks. It’s like asking an adding machine to write an essay.

The three pictures below were all shot in the same hallway. The location is the same, but the math of each picture is different.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hi Tech Machine, Low Tech Flash

Jul 11

In Lighting, On Location at 6:58am

So how do you shoot a medical marvel that is an absolute tech wonder, producing and providing highly detailed maps of the interior of the human body, but, on the outside, sort of looks like a big refrigerator with a hole in it?

The only sexy thing about this machine, visually speaking, were the blessedly intense, focused red beams that created the cross hairs used by the technicians to “aim” the scanner. The patient slides into the machine, and the device is aligned with assist of these beams. Turn the lights off in the room, which is one of the first things I often do when I walk into an environment, and you basically have the picture below.

Once again, up pops the irony of being a “flash photographer.” At any given moment,  the most important light you deal with is the ambient light. What exists, is the first question you grapple with. Then, and only then, after you wrangle what exists and what role (dominant, background, fill) that light will play in the photo, can you mess with flash.

So in the darkness, with a D800E set at f5.6 at ISO 400, I sorted out a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Which was fine, as my “patient” wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, in this iteration, I’ve got a red light and no context, or information. Luckily, I had a wall behind me, flat and white. I turned the head of my SB 910 backwards into the wall, and shifted my color balance to incandescent. That flat wash of light off the wall, un-gelled, and plain white, defined the machine, and the tungsten WB gave it a bluish cast, which I felt would work better than dead bang white. One flash, on camera, re-directed, gave me color, tone, context and editorial content.

Still couldn’t turn on the overhead fluorescents to provide the background illumination, as their overall, blah quality of light, filling the room (which is what they are supposed to do) bleached out the intensity of the red aiming beams, and those red beams were the anchor for the picture. So, I kept the room dark, and flashed the background of the photograph with two SB units, each slightly warmed with a CTO (color temperature orange) gels. I believe the gels were fairly mild, maybe a quarter cut, or 25% of the truly warm tone a full conversion gel would have presented. They are placed, TTL, in Group C, which is always the group I use for the background lights in any photo. I switched my on camera flash to double duty, acting as a TTL main light, and the commander for the background fills. Done.

But, was I really done in the darkness? As is said in The Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. I was moving fast, needing to clear the room of my gear so they could get back to scanning. I had a nice picture, one I knew the client would be happy with. So I plunged ahead.

Now, I love Manfrotto stacker stands. I just don’t love them when they’re actually in my picture. Doh! They had to be retouched out in the final TIFF sent in for the book. As I always say, whenever you are feeling lock solid and dialed in, think again, and check again.

In the darkened hallways of my mind, the ghost of Numnuts is cavorting about and laughing, and that laughter echoes, as it has for my entire career.

More tk….